Staycation + Bonus: The Real Wyoming

Published on: May 11th, 2009

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Ranch
Wyomingite: Jessica Garnick-O’Neal
Co-owner, Triangle C Dude Ranch

What you will see: The wild West meets good ol’ family fun

Be prepared to: Ride horses, square dance and live out your cowboy fantasies

What to expect: Garnick-O’Neal advises visitors to decide what kind of experience they want to have and then go searching for a dude ranch that fits; Triangle C is a program-driven ranch with several different activities for adults, kids and the whole family, including hiking, horse-back riding, rodeos, etc. “I think it’s just about letting go—to allow yourself to experience something that is totally different,” she said.

Westerners will always hold sacred their wild West roots. They will never stop romanticizing wind blown pioneers living off the land and sun-stained, hard-as-nails ranchers.

It’s at dude ranches where visitors play cowboy or cowgirl—soaking in the sun and clinging to those Western roots.

“We represent the heritage of the West, of cowboys and the Western spirit,” said Jessica Garnick-O’Neal, who grew up on a dude ranch and now runs the Triangle C Ranch near Jackson Hole with her family. “And it’s unbelievable to show people that. People love the luster of the cowboy life and the romanticism of living off the land. Modern day dude ranches capture that.

“And really, it’s a good way to share with people a way of life that is dying,” she continued. “It’s keeping a strong hold on a way of life that is waning.”

Garnick-O’Neal knows that in a world of roller coasters, sunny beaches and Cirque du Soleil, the word “dude” may seem like the coolest thing about dude ranches. But, she says, it takes courage to opt for a guest ranch experience.

“It’s not necessarily the coolest thing to do if you are in the rat race. It takes a certain spirit to even say, ‘Let’s go to a dude ranch instead of Disneyland or Club Med,’” Garnick-O’Neal said. “It’s an adventurous vacation. And they are looking to forget where they came from, for something new and a different way of life. No traffic or cell phones or computers. It’s a big thing for people come out and turn off their cell phones, but at the end, it’s a really nice experience to have.”

Plus, she said, if you want to experience quintessential Wyoming, you must visit a dude ranch. Each dude ranch offers something different—family friendly or adults only, education opportunities or lots of manual labor—and allows the visitor to get a real Wyoming experience within their own comfort zone.

“When people leave the ranch they will have a place for Wyoming in their hearts forever,” Garnick-O’Neal said. “It’s different than just driving across I-80. You experience real life. It’s raw.”

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Drinks:
Wyomingite: Julianne Couch
Author, Jukeboxes & Jackalopes: A Wyoming Bar Journey

What you’ll see: Anything off the beaten path

Be prepared to: Meet the locals and test your liver’s capabilities

Must see: Out of the way: Visit the Spotted Horse, the only bar in the town of Spotted Horse (population: 2…both of whom own the bar). Off I-80, The Desert Bar in Wamsutter is a funky place that shouldn’t be missed. On the way: Couch advises stopping by the Silver Dollar Bar & Grill in Jackson Hole’s Wort Hotel as well as The Capitol Grille in the Plains Hotel in Cheyenne.

Julianne Couch doesn’t look like someone who frequents Wyoming dive bars, warmly lit with Pabst Blue Ribbon neon signs and the smiles of guffawing truckers. She doesn’t talk like someone who consorts with grizzled bartenders and roughneck ranch hands who perch on barstools like birds on a wire.
In fact, she seems quite sober.

Still, Couch, an English professor at the University of Wyoming and a writer, is something of a sociologist who observes and comments on the bars, watering holes, roadhouses and taverns of the Cowboy State. Her Jukeboxes & Jackalopes: A Wyoming Bar Journey is an ode to the wild West, telling the stories of Wyoming’s cities, towns and speed bumps through the most revealing of places: the bars. Jukeboxes & Jackalopes is not a “travel guide,” but it paints a picture of the real Wyoming—something you can’t get from following @wyomingtourism on Twitter.

“You always know where you are in Wyoming by what’s on the walls of the bar,” Couch said with a laugh.
The average traveler who cuts a path through the grasslands and wheat fields of Wyoming likely will not use her book as a reference. Couch knows that dive bars—and one-bar towns—may not be destinations, but they are the nuclei for a community’s culture. If you want to absorb the ethos of a town, she says, go to the bar. If you want to get to know the people and stories of the land, go to the bar. If you want to sit back, relax and breathe in the musty air of old timey Americana, go to a Wyoming bar.

Plus, the point of Jukeboxes & Jackalopes is not about getting boozy with the locals, it’s about getting “off the interstate and out of the guide book.”

“To see Wyoming, I tell people to get a map and be prepared,” said Couch, who is now working with her husband, photographer Ronald K. Hansen, on a photo companion to Jukeboxes & Jackalopes. “If you get out of your car and see that there is no one else, that’s a Wyoming experience. If there is no gift store or convenience store, that’s a Wyoming experience. That’s what attracts people to Wyoming: not being around people.”

Except, maybe, heading to the bar.

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Wildlife:
Wyomingite: Kevin Taylor
Program Coordinator, Wildlife Expeditions, Teton Science Schools

What you’ll see: The fauna of Wyoming

Be prepared to: Get up close—but not too close—and personal—but not too personal—with moose, birds and critters

Must see: “If you visit Wyoming, you gotta take a hike in the middle of Grand Teton National Park. It’s just so classically Wyoming,” Taylor said.

You want to see a moose. You don’t care about the chuck-wagon dinner or seeing Old Faithful blow some air. You just want to know what a moose looks like as it grazes on dew-dripping flora.

Kevin Taylor knows where the moose are, and he’ll make sure said moose does not trample you.

As the program coordinator for the Teton Science Schools’ Wildlife Expeditions, Taylor knows Wyoming like it was his own backyard. Probably because it is.

“There are volumes of books written about the area. Still, if you are on your own, where do you even start?” Taylor said. “We help folks maximize their time and experiences here. This is our backyard. When we are not leading trips or hiking with folks, we are doing this on our own. This is our passion.”

By “this” Taylor means the ecosystems, habitats and biology of the fauna in Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks. The nonprofit’s tours include everything from early morning excursions into the Wyoming wilderness to look for, of course, moose to 14-hour adventures to get glimpses of the fauna of Yellowstone. But there is one thing these journeys are not: guided tours. Taylor says those words are like nails on a chalkboard. He and his co-workers are not guides; they are seasoned biologists. And what they provide is a life-changing, thought-provoking, educating experience.

“I don’t expect them to go home and change the world,” Taylor said. “But I hope they leave knowing that the greater Wyoming ecosystem is an amazing place…I like the idea of relating the experience to the amazing places that people have at home too. Whether or not they remember the gestation period of an animal is not important, but developing a connection with wildlife increases the value someone places on it.”

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History:
Wyomingite: Sarah Chapman
Owner, Go Native America

What you’ll see: Everything from a different perspective

Be prepared to: Have your world-view changed as you explore Wyoming’s tribal lands

What to expect: “You are coming here to see the emotion of the area, the history, culture and people. Expect beauty. Of course, we show people what they want to see. On the other side, there’s usually some culture shock,” Chapman said.

Sarah Chapman looks out her office window and does not see the luxuries of modern life: roads, cars, stores or toothy kids playing in parks.

She sees the land of the American Indian. She sees the ground on which battles were fought, lost or won. She sees the sacred and the hallowed, the politically unjust and the socially unfair.

Chapman will take you to this Wyoming—if you’d like. She will make sure you no longer see the state—or any state—as a system of roads and highways connecting different municipalities and homes, national parks and reservations. She will show you that below the surface it’s all “Indian country.”

Chapman and her husband own Go Native America, a renowned Wyoming-based tourism company that introduces visitors to the tribal side of life. They offer a variety of different tours that take travelers to significant tribal locations throughout the state. Visitors don’t just learn the history of Wyoming’s native people but visit sites, learn the politics and the culture, and even visit reservations.

“The people who take our tours are the kind of people who want to know what is going on. They want to stand with their own two feet and talk with the people,” Chapman said. “In many cases we show people places that they never knew existed.”

This is not cowboy country, she says. It was, is and will always be the land of the Cheyenne, the Lakota and the Kiowa.

“All you need to do is lie on your back and look at the stars to understand why it’s Indian country,” she said. “There is so much total beauty out here. You can see it on this level or see beyond that. That’s what people who tour with us are trying to do: see beyond that sight.”

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